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Obama Golfs With Melody Barnes -- First Female to Join Him on Links

5 years ago
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We don't know if her drives were straight or her putts true, but Melody Barnes' round of golf Sunday was notable for at least one reason: She became the first woman to join President Obama's foursome since he took office. Barnes, Obama's chief domestic policy adviser, teed it up at the U.S. Army's Fort Belvoir course. It was the president's 24th round since his inauguration.

The Barnes invite came as Obama was catching some heat for an all-male basketball game with members of Congress, his staffers and Cabinet members earlier this month. Ongoing chatter in the blogosphere and stories noting only males playing on Obama's home court finally morphed into a front-page Sunday New York Times story raising three questions: Is Obama's White House fostering a frat-boy atmosphere rich in sports metaphors? Are there enough women in key administration positions and in the Obama inner circle? And why are more women not playing sports with Obama, who is an avid hoopster and golfer.

I don't think this last question is a huge deal because Obama's feminist credentials are basically fine. He has appointed women to powerful spots. Besides Barnes, there is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Communications Director Anita Dunn.

If Clinton or Jarrett played basketball or golf, maybe we wouldn't have this problem. But they don't. Sebelius, after the flap over the male-only basketball game ripened, bragged that, unlike Obama, she made her college team. Rice was a high school basketball star. I don't think there are that many women in Obama's inner circle who play either basketball or golf at his skill level. When he golfs, he often just takes staffers. Sunday was a glorious fall day for golf -- crisp, with the leaves changing colors along the drive from Washington to the Army base in Virginia. I was the print pool reporter. Barnes was seen with her golf bag joining the presidential entourage at the White House.

Obama's motorcade passed through the gate at Fort Belvoir at 1:04 p.m. Eastern, hitting the clubhouse two minutes later, after rolling out of the White House at 12:23 p.m. Waiting at the base -- in the Fort Belvoir food court -- I e-mailed White House Deputy Press Secretary William Burton, asking if Barnes was the first woman to play golf with Obama since taking office. Burton's reply: "Not true."

Curious, since no female names had appeared in previous pool reports, I e-mailed Burton again asking who the other women were. He then set the record straight. "I was wrong about this -- all apologies. He golfed with women on the campaign trail but not until Melody this year," Burton replied.

Last week, NBC's Savannah Guthrie asked Obama if his all-male basketball game was just "the old boys club again." Replied Obama, "Yeah, I've got to say I think this is bunk." he said. "You know, basically, the House of Representatives, they have a regular basketball game. And they had wanted to play here at the White House court. And we invited them. You know, I don't think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever."

Although one person's ho-hum attitude about a symbolic gesture is another person's glass ceiling, I might point out that Melody Barnes is not the first woman to be in a presidential golfing party. Democratic activist Beth Dozoretz played with former President Bill Clinton in September 1997. And Donna Caponi, a former U.S. Open women's champion, was present several times on the links with Clinton -- and told author Don Van Natta Jr., in his excellent book on golf and presidents, that she had seen the 42nd president take numerous mulligans. Clinton also told Van Natta that one of his favorite golfing partners is Amy Alcott, another former member of the LPGA. Clinton's predecessor in office, George H. W. Bush, once took a lady golfing -- the first lady -- although Barbara Bush's day did not end happily, as Maureen Dowd chronicled here.

Long after he left office, Gerald Ford hit a woman with errant shot off the 17th tee in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in California. Her name was Geraldine Grommesh, a resident of Fargo, N.D., and she'd never been on a golf course before. "I'm just glad it was a former president who hit me," she told reporters.

Edith Galt Wilson had higher expectations of her presidential golf outings. She met Woodrow Wilson after the president, a widower, had finished a round of golf with his physician and friend, Cary Grayson -- and the sport always had a place in their hearts. They golfed on their honeymoon, in fact, and frequently thereafter. "Played golf with W. and Grayson," first lady Edith Wilson would write in her diary. "Beat them both."

History -- at least the first draft of history -- does not yet know what Melody Barnes thought of the president's game. The sun was setting over the club house at Fort Belvoir when Obama's motorcade departed at 6:06 p.m. Sunday. Dusk was falling when the motorcade pulled up to the South Portico of the White House at 6:35 p.m. I saw Barnes unload her clubs from an SUV and walk along the White House colonnade. She did not stick around to take questions.

I can see why. It may have been just a great play date for Barnes -- and the Sunday when she cracked the "irons curtain."

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